Aug. 26--Museum owner focuses on diversity education
Charles Minimah says he's a West Virginian by choice, and he wants to give back to the state that's given him many opportunities.
Minimah, 62, is a first-generation immigrant to America, arriving from Nigeria in 1976. His wife Pamela is a native of Charleston, and they have three adult children -- two have graduated from West Virginia University and one is currently a student at West Virginia State. The Minimahs operate a home health service business, as well as an African history museum downtown.
But Minimah is seeking more. He's running for an open seat in the House of Delegates, representing the 37th district, which includes the East End, downtown, West Side and North Charleston. Over the years, Minimah said the district he calls home became "neglected," and he's running to make a difference.
"In my campaign, we're talking about jobs, education reform and public safety," Minimah said. "It turns out public safety, when it comes to this particular district, is at the top of the list, at least in my opinion."
Minimah wrote an op-ed piece in the Daily Mail last month highlighting ideas to improve public safety in the district. Earlier this year, several shootings and drug busts occurred on the West Side, leading many residents to call on law enforcement and state government to help.
"If that is not taken care of, the problems we're currently experiencing and have experienced in the past will continue to linger."
The 37th district, formerly the 31st, was created as a "minority influence district," but Minimah is the only minority in the race. A Republican, he was unopposed in the May primary but the Democratic ticket consisted of five white men, including nominee Mike Pushkin. Delegate Meshea Poore, a Democrat who currently represents the district, is the only minority to do so since the district was created in the early 1990s. She was appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin in 2009. She won re-election in 2010 and 2012, but decided to run for U.S. Congress this year, ultimately losing the Democratic primary to Nick Casey.
Minimah said he's been paying attention to local politics for a while. In the early 2000s, the city of Charleston was considering giving millions in incentives to attract a new business to the Town Center Mall and build the new Appalachian Power Park. Minimah said he disagreed with those plans because they weren't fiscally responsible.
"The city of Charleston at one point was going to give out $7.5 million to attract a major national chain store, Dillard's, to take the spot that used to be Montgomery Ward at the mall," he said. "The second thing was the baseball park was in Kanawha City and the city was going to give a $6 million contribution toward its new location. It's a pretty nice baseball park. I'm happy it was constructed, but I thought that's $13 million that could help this district. This district has been neglected for so long and it's in an economic depression, so to speak. I was hoping the city would make a decision that would impact the lives of those residents who live there. That investment of $13 million would have gone a long way to doing that."
Over the years, Minimah has worked to draw attention to the issues minorities face and educate people about diversity. His museum is just one way he accomplishes that. The Heritage Towers Museum, located at 612 Virginia St., is home to rare African artifacts and artwork and traces the history of African-Americans from pre-slavery in Africa through modern day. Visitors to the museum can see statues, weapons, traditional clothing, a replica of a slave cabin and pieces from a replica of the Henrietta Marie, a slave ship that sunk off the coast of Florida. Minimah said they museum happened "by accident," after he and others built a replica of the ship in 2000 to display at the Culture Center as part of a traveling exhibit.
"The museum itself was an accident -- it wasn't planned," he said. "When we did the exhibit in 2000, it was a traveling exhibit. It was going to 20 cities around the United States. No one wanted to touch this exhibit with a 10 foot pole. We really took a chance."
The replica ship was on display for four months and the exhibit drew more than 90,000 visitors.
"It turned out to be very successful and all the requests started coming in," Minimah said. "All the schools wanted to come in and the Culture Center told them they needed to contact us, so they were calling us and we didn't have anything. What we decided to do is take from what we learned -- it was quite a learning tool for me personally and all those involved -- and created Heritage Towers so people can come and see. This is the only facility of its kind in the state of West Virginia."
Although Minimah highlights the history of African-Americans through the museum, he's also concerned about the future. Besides Poore, only two other black delegates -- Democrats Clif Moore and Charlene Marshall -- serve in the Legislature. Minimah would like to see that number grow and African-Americans get more involved.
"I believe having the African-American community participate in the process is absolutely imperative," he said. "I'm here to continue to work because I believe we need to have representation in the Legislature from the African-American community."
But most of all, Minimah is looking to grow opportunities for all residents of the 37th district, whether its through jobs or education.
"There has not been a lot to happen in district 37," he said. "That needs to change."
Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.
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